UFC 254 news: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje preview as lightweights collide


After weeks of build-up and frenzied anticipation, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje meet in their UFC lightweight unification bout in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

Returning to the Flash Forum's 'Fight Island' in the UAE for the second time, the bout is set to determine the best fighter in the division once more.

For Khabib, Saturday will be the 32-year-old's first fight since September 2019, but a return to the Middle East, when the undefeated Russian beat Dustin Poirier via a third-round rear-naked choke submission at UFC 242 13 months ago.

Since his now infamous fight with the 'Notorious' Conor McGregor in October 2018, 'The Eagle' has successfully defended his crown twice, but faces arguably his toughest opponent to date on Saturday.  

Gaethje, meanwhile, will have less rust to speak of, after it was he who stood in for Khabib, with the Makhachkala-native unable to leave his country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going on to end Tony Ferguson's 12-fight winning streak at UFC 249, Gaethje became interim champion, winning by fifth-round TKO last May in Florida.

In terms of the Tale of the Tape, there is little between the two fighters.


Whilst both men have a 70-inch reach and weighed in at 155lbs (11st-1lb), Khabib is one year Gaethje's senior and gives away an inch in height to the American.

The Russian, though, still holds his '0', having gone 28 fights without defeat.

Gaethje has lost twice, most recently to Poirier in Arizona, back in 2018.

That defeat, however, will be something he will be looking to draw upon against Khabib.

As Poirier himself revealed in victory, his opponent's kicks had caused a partial tear of his quadriceps muscle, the first time Poirier had sustained injury during a bout.

Khabib, however, as number two pound-for-pound fighter in UFC, will be unperturbed by Gaethje's smash-mouth wrestling style, and will instead fall back on his brute force and relentless strikes.

As UFC president Dana White has stated, Khabib will be approaching GOAT status with victory, and as the fighter himself admitted earlier this week, beating Gaethje could be legacy-defining. 

The eyes of the world then will be on Abu Dhabi this weekend, and as champions collide, the stakes are high in their desert showdown.

Elsewhere on the bill, number two-ranked middleweight Jared Cannonier faces former champion Robert Whittaker, with a likely shot at champion Israel Adesanya on the line.

Alexander Volkov faces Walt Harris in a heavyweight eliminator, Magomed Ankalaev locks horns with Moldovan Ion Cutelaba lower down in the the lightweight ranks, whilst 'Lucky' Lauren Murphy clashes with Liliya Shakirova in a women's flyweight bout.

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